COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -It might be the biggest come-from-behind win in Jim O'Brien's coaching career.
The NCAA reversed itself Friday and threw out three violations and part of a fourth that occurred under the former Ohio State men's basketball coach because the association's enforcement staff missed a deadline for filing the charges.
Despite the ruling, Ohio State said penalties imposed because of the violations - including NCAA probation and erasing all references to its 1999 Final Four appearance - will stand.
The Buckeyes' trip to the national championship game earlier this month is unaffected. Only one player from that team, Ivan Harris, played for O'Brien; however, he was not involved in the violations and none of his current teammates or coaches were around when they occurred.
O'Brien was fired June 8, 2004, six weeks after he revealed to then-athletic director Andy Geiger that he had loaned $6,000 to recruit Aleksandar Radojevic in 1999.
A subsequent investigation by Ohio State determined seven NCAA violations had occurred in the program while O'Brien was coach.
But the NCAA appeals committee said Friday its enforcement staff missed the deadline for notifying Ohio State of the charges regarding Radojevic by two days in 2005.
The committee upheld the other violations involving O'Brien, including improper benefits awarded to Boban Savovic, a member of the Buckeyes' Final Four team in 1999. It also reaffirmed four violations tied to O'Brien's top assistant at the time, Paul Biancardi. But O'Brien's attorney, Brian Murphy, said those violations were only minor ones.
``This is a bittersweet victory,'' O'Brien said in a statement. ``Hopefully from this other schools will learn to fight with and for their coaches and student-athletes rather than simply appease the NCAA.''
O'Brien always contended that giving the money to Radojevic was a minor violation, if a violation at all, because Radojevic was subsequently found to be a professional and never enrolled at or played for Ohio State.
O'Brien sued Ohio State for his firing. He won $2.2 million plus interest from the university in last August. The case has been appealed and the university has not paid him any money.
O'Brien also had been penalized in the original ruling, with the NCAA making it difficult for him to coach again at the college level. But the association said Friday its infractions committee would revisit that decision.
``I look forward to finding an opportunity to get back to what I had previously dedicated my career to - coaching and developing young men,'' O'Brien said.
The latest ruling would seem to undercut Ohio State's charge that it fired O'Brien because he had committed major NCAA violations by giving money to Radojevic.
``The fact that some of O'Brien's and Paul Biancardi's violations have been reversed on a technicality in no way changes the fact that the university's termination of Jim O'Brien was right,'' Ohio State said in a statement. ``He violated a fundamental recruiting rule in breach of his contract, and that violation has been affirmed by yet another governing body today.''
During the investigation, the NCAA determined that Savovic received improper benefits while he played for the Buckeyes.
As a way to mitigate potential NCAA penalties, Ohio State officials decided to hold the men's basketball team out of the postseason after the 2004-05 season despite a 20-12 record.
Ohio State received three years of NCAA probation and was forced to take down its Final Four banner from Value City Arena and repay the NCAA around $800,000 it received for its NCAA tournament appearances while Savovic was on the team.
Ohio State spokesman Steve Snapp said that he did not believe that the NCAA reversal would change the penalties the university had accepted.
``The banners are a totally separate issue, the result of us playing an ineligible player,'' he said. ``That does not relate to this at all.''
Murphy declared the latest NCAA ruling a complete victory for O'Brien.
``Whether they want to call it a technicality or a loophole or anything else, it's clear now that it wasn't a violation and the university could not and has not suffered any harm as a result of that contact - other than that which they chose to impose upon themselves,'' Murphy said.

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